MARCH 30, 2005

Suicide's 'smoking' gun
EAST LANSING, MI — Cigarette packaging may warn that smoking kills, but what about smokers killing themselves? Intentionally, that is. Research in the March issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry warns that smoking is associated with suicidal tendencies. Interviews with 899 randomly selected candidates aged 21-30 in 1989, 1992, 1993 and 1999 revealed that smokers were 1.82 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts or attempt to take their own lives. One silver lining in the smoke cloud: past smoking was not associated with suicidal tendencies -- so quitters are in the clear.

Chewable fracture prevention?
TAGAWA, JAPAN — We already entice kids to take their vitamins with cartoon shapes and fruity flavours. New research indicates it could be time to use similar tactics to get elderly patients to take theirs too -- especially after a stroke. Stroke patients are two to four times more likely to fracture a hip and a study in the March 2 issue of JAMA of 628 elderly stroke patients aged 65 and older shows that vitamins can reduce the risk. Subjects who took 5mg of folate and 1500g of vitamin B12 daily were significantly less likely to suffer post-stroke fractures.

Avant garde tea ceremonies
Once again Ig Nobel Prize season is upon us. The award, which celebrates unusual research, has taken its show on the road, with a tour of the UK to celebrate National Science Week. Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and MC of the awards ceremony, did his own study on the tea and coffee drinking habits of scientists. Shockingly, he could find only one British scientist who adhered to the Standard BS 6008:1980 method of tea making. The rather experimental remainder chose to forge their own brewing paths. One interesting subject was Dr Philip Renshaw, who reported that circumstances forced him to deviate from the traditional English cup of tea with milk. Through roommate mishaps (stolen milk) and his own parsimony (repeated use of the same teabag) he has ended up preferring plain old boiling water.

Dutch necrophilia quack
ROTTERDAM — A Dutch researcher who won a coveted prize for his studies on deviant duck behaviour has also been making the rounds in the Ig Nobel tour. C W Moeliker received the laurels for his seminal study, "The First Scientifically Recorded Case of Homosexual Necrophilia in the Mallard Duck." As the incident occurred just outside his office at Natuurmuseum Rotterdam, he was able to record it in great detail and provide photographs. Here's an excerpt: "Rather startled, I watched this scene from close quarters behind the window until 19:10 hours during which time (75 minutes) I made some photographs and the mallard almost continuously copulated his dead congener."

Yawn, that's fascinating
AMSTERDAM — Dr Wolter Seuntjens at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, finds yawning endlessly fascinating. And thanks to his attempts at a multidisciplinary, encyclopedic description of the yawn he's earned himself a spot on the Ig Nobel tour, joining countryman C W Moeliker and his obscene mallard. He argues that our current understanding of the yawn is sorely lacking and certain aspects of yawning, particularly the contagious sort, beg further study. He's doing his best to close the knowledge gap, with some startling findings. For instance, in his PhD thesis, he revealed, "In discussing pharmacology, I found a link between yawning and spontaneous orgasm in withdrawal from heroin addiction."

Chondroitin adroitly treats osteoarthritis
ZURICH — There's finally some hard evidence on the benefits of one of the more mysterious ingredients found in the dietary supplement aisle. In a study in the March issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism, 300 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee were randomized to receive either 800mg of chondroitin or a placebo every day for two years. Radiographs of the study group's knees showed that the supplement effectively prevented cartilage loss -- without any adverse side effects.

Bankruptcy Act puts uninsured in poorhouse
WASHINGTON — The US's recently passed Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act has credit card company stocks soaring. But it may soon have those without health insurance reeling. That's because the Act will make it more difficult to declare bankruptcy. Arguably the biggest change in US bankruptcy protection since the 1841 abolition of debtor prisons, it passed with strong support of President Bush, most Republicans and a substantial minority of Democrats. Senator Ted Kennedy (Democrat -- MA) had proposed an amendment that would exclude medical-bill bankruptcies from the new, stricter rules. The amendment was voted down.

Harmful drug's genetic pathway illuminated
NEW ORLEANS — The medical community is still dealing with the aftershocks of drugs unwisely prescribed in the post-war decades to pregnant women. One such drug, synthetic estrogen diethylstilbesterol (DES) is now known to cause infertility in the daughters of women who took it, but scientists didn't know how. A paper in the March issue of Molecular Endocrinology unravels the genetic pathway behind its effect on their uteruses. Apparently DES affects a gene called Msx2 that determines how the developing uterus responds to estrogen signalling.

Hyperthyroidism: the midnight rambler
RIYAHD — A team of Saudi researchers has discovered a possible link between sleepwalking and hyperthyroidism. They've documented eight cases where people started sleepwalking at the same time their hyperthyroidism cropped up. The study, in the January/February issue of Endocrine Practice, suggests a cause-and-effect relationship between the two conditions. The researchers also found that sleepwalking disappeared in patients once their hyperthyroidism was successfully treated, and that patients would resume their midnight rambles if the thyroid problem wasn't properly controlled. The team was not able to offer any clue as to why the link exists.





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